Follow Jesus on Palm Sunday

“Follow Jesus on Palm Sunday”

Jesus Palm Sunday - Giotto di Bonde, Entry into Jerusalem 1304-06, Fresco, Cappella Scrovegni Arena Chapel, Padua

Mark 11:1-11 (11:9) – March 25, 2018

            Have you ever been at a really big celebration? I mean a public celebration—like a ticker-tape parade, a celebration of a world championship, or the visit of an A-list celebrity? Something really, really big?

            From all the descriptions of the Palm Sunday Triumphal Entry in all four Gospels, that’s kind of what we are looking at today in our scripture passage. The celebration is really big, the Rabbi Jesus was a big-name celebrity, and this special entry into Jerusalem was a first-century type of a ticker-tape parade. Except with palms!

            Let’s take a closer look. Here’s the situation: It’s almost Passover, the most important religious observance of the religious year. A great number of faithful Jews from near and far come to Jerusalem, in pilgrimage, in commemoration of the Exodus event.

Jesus comes, too. He publicly, intentionally enters Jerusalem, even though the religious leaders are not pleased with Him or what He has been doing for the past few years. Jesus’s disciples must have known about the prophecy of an entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. This was clearly a scene with “Messiah” written all over it.

And, Jesus does not sneak into the city, all hush-hush. No! He comes in with a parade! With crowds of people waving palms and shouting “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Jesus had been planning this entry in to Jerusalem for some time. In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 9, we can already see that He intended to do this thing. But here in our reading today from Mark, we see a concise account, relating what happened. Little additional information. We can see that from the other Gospels. This way of telling the account reminds me that Mark did not waste much time. He wrote mostly for a Roman audience, who had little time or inclination to wade through genealogies (like Matthew) or background information (like Luke). I think of Mark as the journalist of the four Gospel writers: “just the facts, ma’am.” And, Mark’s use of “immediately!” carries us right along from one situation to the next.

Except, our Gospel reading today is a culmination. We follow Jesus right into Jerusalem at this most holy time of the year—either the Jewish Year or the Christian calendar. With the entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, Jesus was certainly reminding everyone of a prophecy from Psalm 118.

What is the meaning of those cries of “Hosanna” and “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord?” If we look at Psalm 118, we’ll find these words written by the psalmist. This was the usual Passover greeting one person would give another, except with the addition of the word “King.” And just to let you all know, the majority of the crowd in Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday morning understood what they were quoting—they were intentionally welcoming someone they hoped would be their Messiah, their King! Someone who would save them from the awful situation they were in.

            There was a disconnect between the people and their limited understanding, and what Jesus actually was going to do. But I’m getting ahead of myself by rushing on to later in Holy Week. We are still here on Palm Sunday. And everyone is still excited to welcome the Rabbi Jesus—their hoped-for Messiah—into the city. They are hoping He will save them from the Romans and maybe, possibly, become their King. Except they had an earthly King in mind.

In Mark’s Gospel, we hear no mention of children. As one of my commentators says, this was an adult-inspired and led event. She suspects children did get into the act, but they were joining the adults. [1]  Remember the palm processions featuring children, on Palm Sunday? Either at this church, or at other services you may have attended over the years? This is not strictly biblical. We ought to make the palm procession intergenerational! That is truly what the impromptu parade was like. And then, when children participate with their parents, grandparents, other adults and leaders of the church, children can understand that this is a very important parade. And, a very important thing in the life of Jesus.

When Jesus enters Jerusalem, the rambunctious crowd calls out for the coming kingdom of their ancestor David. Messiah was supposed to be related to David, and Messiah’s coming was a time of peace on earth. But, the coming of Jesus causes a division. It causes anything but peace on earth.

The theologian Tom Mullen makes this statement about his denomination (Society of Friends or Quakers): “They work for peace — and if you really want to cause conflict, you work for peace.” [2] So it was for the Rabbi Jesus—the Messiah Jesus riding into Jerusalem. Even though we want to follow Jesus in peaceful ways, Jesus and His message created division, tension, and crisis—as seen by the violent reaction of the religious leaders.

But thank God, Jesus is more powerful than any division, any tension, any crisis. Jesus entered the city not as an earthly King, not as a conqueror, not to set up a nationalistic empire, but as the True Redeemer of Israel. And not of just Israel, but also of the whole world. This Holy Week is where all of the prophecies focus to a fine point, and reveal the Rabbi Jesus as not only the Messiah and King, but also as the Suffering Servant. The Lamb of God, sent to take away the sins of the world.

As we remember this Passover time, this Holy Week, we can thank God that our Lord Jesus did enter Jerusalem. As a King, as a Messiah, yes! But also as our Redeemer and Savior. Praise God, Jesus is our Redeemer and Savior, just as much as He was Redeemer and Savior for that crowd in Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday. In the first century, Jesus came to save His people from their sins. Praise God, He came to save us, today, too! Amen! And amen!

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/01/year-b-palm-passion-sunday-march-29-2015.html

Worshiping with Children, Palm/Passion Sunday, 2015. Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2012.

[2] Mullen, Thomas, Laughing Out Loud and Other Religious Experiences (Waco, TX: Word Publishers, 1983), 50.

Your King Comes to You

Matthew 21:1-11 – April 9, 2017

Jesus Palm Sunday - Giotto di Bonde, Entry into Jerusalem 1304-06, Fresco, Cappella Scrovegni Arena Chapel, Padua

“Your King Comes to You”

Has anyone here ever been at a really big “welcome home” celebration? I am thinking really, really big! Like, after the Cubs won the World Series last fall, and they returned to Chicago in triumphant victory. Or, after the Black Hawks, the White Sox or the Bulls won their championships. Has anyone experienced the joyful, expectant feeling of the crowd? The wild cheering and celebration as the focal point of the parade came into view?

Imagine that level of celebration, and then add an additional layer. The country of Israel had been under the heel of various world powers for several centuries. The Roman government was the current dominating overlords, and an ever-present occupying force. By Jesus entering Jerusalem in the way He did, He fulfilled a well-known prophecy from the Hebrew Scriptures. In addition, by doing this He was claiming the mantle of Messiah, the Anointed One of God. As Zechariah said, “Tell the city of Zion, ‘Look, your king is coming to you! He is humble and rides on a donkey.”

What about the crowd gathered there in Jerusalem, for the Passover holiday? Emotions run high when you are in the midst of a crowd. Higher highs, lower lows, all kinds of extremes. As Rev. Adam Copeland said, “Whether they are for sport, political protest, or public worship, gathering with thousands inevitably changes our mood and actions. I have never felt as alone as in a rival team’s stadium filled with thousands of home-team fans. I rarely feel as important as when I’ve gathered with others to protest unjust laws or call for social action. I get Goose bumps when I’m able to recite the Lord’s Prayer with a few thousand other worshipers.” [1]

What was the crowd looking for from Rabbi Jesus? This Messiah, Anointed One?    

A companion question: what were the disciples looking for from Jesus? From their Rabbi and leader, whom they had been following for months, even years? I remind everyone that there were more than just twelve men following after Jesus. There were more. Maybe Peter’s wife, maybe others’ wives or sisters. Women, other men, maybe even some children and youths. Many of these had been faithful in following Jesus for some time, and they were true believers. Faithful followers.

St. Ignatius of Loyola was a man of deep prayer. He instructed many in the way of deep, significant prayer. He had a special way of praying, which can also be used for reading the Bible. Ignatian spirituality, prayer and bible reading have been adapted from his instructions.

St. Ignatius would have us put ourselves into the biblical scene. Imagine yourself right there, on that Palm Sunday morning. I invite you to choose a place to stand: either among the crowd, observing, cheering; or among the disciples, close in to Jesus and the donkey. Perhaps even take the donkey’s point of view! Let us all immerse ourselves into the narrative. Hear the raucous noises and roar of the crowd. Feel the jostling shoulders as we jockey for position, to get the best view of the parade. Because, that is what it is! A procession! A joyful entrance into Jerusalem, the historic capital city of King David!

Can you feel the energy of that immense crowd? Jerusalem was full to bursting! People of Jewish ancestry had come to Jerusalem from all over the known world, to commemorate the Passover holiday. And, here were people welcoming this Messiah, this Anointed One, into the city like a king.

Can you feel the emotions of your fellow crowd members? What expectations are rising to the fore? Some desperate to throw off the heavy yoke of the Roman occupation, and so are delighted to see someone, at last, taking up the mantle of the Messiah! To call together the men of Israel and lead the Jewish army to victory! Some, I am sure, leery of this upstart Rabbi, and wondering how far He is going to get before the Romans scare Him off. And others, simply caught up in all the excitement of the moment, welcoming this Holy Man, this Miracle Worker, into the city of Jerusalem.

What were the expectations of those there, on that Palm Sunday morning? Sure, as our Gospel reading tells us, there was a large crowd around the city gate, ready to cheer and wave and make noise. The noise and celebration put the whole city into an uproar, turning things inside out and upside down.  In fact, the Greek verb in that phrase, “uproar,” is the same word used for an earthquake. Jesus shook up the people of Jerusalem, and He certainly stirred up the religious leaders and priests.

Let us fast forward, to the present. What are our expectations, right here, right now? What are we to do with this Jesus, riding in on a donkey?

Sure, there are many people in churches across the world today who are excited to celebrate another Palm Sunday. A highlight of the liturgical year, the beginning of Holy Week. Some are caught up in the pageantry and celebration. Others are content to wave their palms and observe things from the sidelines. Many, even, feel the solemn beginning of that sorrowful Holiest Week of the liturgical year. But, is there more?

The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem was so typical of Jesus. He did not blindly accept these short-sighted expectations that were foisted upon Him. Instead, Jesus knew who He was, and did not need to clutch any lofty or power-hungry or mean and angry persona to Himself. No, Jesus entered Jerusalem knowing exactly who He was. God’s much beloved Son, the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. He had all that kingly authority already.

Let us remind ourselves exactly why Jesus had come into the world, exactly why He began His preaching, teaching and healing ministry. He came preaching forgiveness and mercy. He came teaching love and reconciliation. He came healing people from physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual diseases. Jesus came to give us life, and life abundantly!

But, today, Jesus’s voice gets drowned out by countless distractions. “Choked as we are by all of our distractions and tranquilizers—our cars, our houses, our 60-inch televisions and 6-inch computers, our smartphones and gizmos and gadgets, all of our conveniences and drugs and entertainment—we are likely to lose sight of the gate into heaven.” [2]

So often today, many people’s attention gets pulled away from things of God. Some are too busy to see Jesus. Some are too worried to listen to His voice. Some today couldn’t even care if Jesus lived or died.

Let’s focus on people within the church, worldwide. Some celebrate and wave palms on Palm Sunday and are content to let the whole rest of Holy Week slide right by without it registering on their hearts, then slide right into the following week’s celebration on Easter Sunday without a second thought. [3]

Jesus rides into our midst today, humble and seated on a donkey. He asks us the pointed question: what is it we seek in Jesus? Have we lost sight of the forgiveness, mercy, love and reconciliation He offers? He offers it to us, freely.

We can ask our Lord Jesus to enter our hearts, and to help us to lay at His feet all that we have and are today.

God willing, may we say “blessed are You who comes in the name of the Lord.”

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-adam-j-copeland/palm-powered-protest_b_5106331.html

“Palm Powered Protest,” Adam Copeland, ON Scripture, Odyssey Networks, 2014

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/palm-passion-sunday1; The Preaching Notes are written by Dawn Chesser, Director of Preaching Ministries, Discipleship Ministries, dchesser@UMCdiscipleship.org

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1546 ; “To Be Continued…” David Lose, WorkingPreacher, 2011.

God’s Abundance

“God’s Abundance”

John 2-8 Miracle Wedding at Cana Coptic icon

John 2:8 – January 17, 2016

Weddings are so often a joyful time! Busy, yes. Stressful, yes. But joy-filled, too!

Have you ever known a wedding where something unexpected happened? I mean, a mistake happened, or something just went plain wrong? These are just a few things that actually happened to a real-life pastor, the Rev. Dr. Alyce McKenzie.

  • The groom and best man got to the church on time, but they forgot to bring the suit for the 6-year-old ring bearer.
  • The matron of honor had surgery a little too recently to be standing for a long time and collapsed during the vows.
  • The pastor got the time wrong and showed up an hour late for the wedding.
  • People on the guest list didn’t bother to rsvp for the reception, but showed up anyway, assuming there would be enough food and drink for them. And there wasn’t. [1]

This last one happened at the commentator’s daughter’s wedding a few years ago. Can you imagine what kinds of consternation this might cause at a wedding? Surprise? Frustration? Embarrassment?

Imagine that wedding in the town of Cana, at the very beginning of the ministry of Jesus. It doesn’t so much matter when the wedding was celebrated, then or now. An awful problem, no matter where or when. Except, even more so in the Middle East, where hospitality is such an important, foundational part of life.

Today, we know how important it is to offer guests something to eat or drink when they come to our homes for a visit. Think of that, and then multiply it. Times ten, and even more. I suspect not only many of the local townspeople were there, but also friends and relatives from near-by towns. We read in the Gospel record that the Rabbi Jesus was also there, with His disciples. And, His mother was invited, too. Large crowd of people!

Reminding everyone, in the first century, Jewish custom held that most any wedding would be an event of celebration for several days. Our Scripture passage today shows a wealthy Jewish family—with a number of servants and a household steward.

Imagine the huge amount of time and the money that went into a celebration of that size. Plus, the logistics! We read that the family provided extravagant feasting for days. In the case of today’s Scripture, if there were any miscalculation or lack in provisions in food or drink, not only the bride and groom but also their families would most likely suffer great humiliation. And what if—God forbid—something should go very wrong? What then? The surprise, the frustration, the embarrassment that potentially could happen at that wedding celebration in Cana.

John begins his narrative in the middle of things. He opens the scene on the third day of the wedding feast. The party is in full swing! And it is a party. Huge celebration.

The miracles in John’s gospel are called signs; they show everyone Jesus the Son of God, and His Godly power, might and glory. As commentator Nancy Rockwell said, John’s signs deal with ordinary human things, set in the course of human events. Like, a wedding feast. [2] And the Son of God, the Divine Word made flesh, is human, too! He enjoys Himself at a big party, with His friends and family.

We aren’t sure, since the Gospel writer does not say. Perhaps Jesus’s mother Mary is related to the family, or is good friends with one or more family members. Regardless, she is concerned about the situation. “Weddings epitomize the fact that even the best planned and most auspicious of human scenarios are imperfect, flawed, and lacking. Something always goes wrong. Something is always askew. It is the role of the mother of Jesus to express that reality and to look expectantly (I imagine) in the direction of her Son.” [3]

His mother Mary comes to her Son—I suspect quietly. “When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’” What’s to be done? This is a huge problem, and a terrible embarrassment to both families! Talk about public humiliation! Mary knows very well what is going on. So, she goes to Jesus for assistance.

When we have problems, or embarrassment, or difficulty today, how do we handle it? Do we keep it to ourselves? How about sweeping awkward problems under the rug? Or do we do what Mary did? Do we go to Jesus?

Our commentator Nancy Rockwell says, “Consistent with the other signs in John’s gospel, and in keeping with John’s exact words, would be this: Mary cannot stand by and watch an injustice, will not watch the groom and his bride be disgraced;  she does not want their marriage celebration to have a lasting shame as its memory. And in response to her compassion for them Jesus does what Mary, in her famous song in Luke’s gospel proclaimed:  he fills the hungry with a good thing.  He replenishes the wine.” [4]

Yes, I could tell you about the expression Jesus uses to address His mother—“Woman,” which can be a term of respect. I could talk about the way Mary sidles up to the servants and tells them “Do whatever he tells you.” But, instead, I want to focus on the large stone jars that Jesus used. These were six large containers of water with anywhere from twenty to thirty gallons apiece. There was a large crowd gathered at the party—or, banquet. Jewish ceremonial tradition demanded that there be a large amount of water nearby for observant Jews to wash ceremonially before they ate.

Jesus knew all about this custom, and He told the servants to fill the jars. Let’s say there were twenty gallons in each one. That was one hundred twenty gallons of water, just waiting!

As Nancy Rockwell said so well, Jesus responded to His mother’s compassion for her friends. Jesus replenished the wine! Notice He did not shake His finger at the crowd for enjoying some wine. Neither did Jesus sneak out the back door, not wanting to have anything to do with such a “shameful happening.” Imagine, not having enough wine for a big, multi-day celebration like this!

Instead, Jesus replenished the wine. Over one hundred gallons of it! He allowed the party, the feasting, the celebration to continue. He stepped into potential humiliation and family embarrassment at a significant event in the town of Cana. Jesus transformed it into something abundant.

Jesus worked a miracle! Another way of looking at it is that God abundantly provided for this situation at the wedding party. God reached out and touched this event, transforming it into something miraculous. Jesus transformed the potential injustice and embarrassment of these families into something wonderful.

I remember another situation, another place, another time, where injustice, frustration and embarrassment were gradually transformed into something amazing. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his words, and his actions? Transformed our country through the miracles of what was accomplished through the civil rights marches, through Dr. King’s earthshaking speeches and sermons. What a transformation, taking something hurtful and potentially embarrassing, and transcending the flawed and faulty world.

Thank God! God’s Son saw fit to provide for this family situation at the wedding. Jesus can provide for us when we get into embarrassing situations, or difficult situations. Let’s thank Jesus for His love and care for each one of us. For reaching out and giving abundantly from God’s overflowing resources.

Amen, alleluia!

 

[1] http://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Wedding-Mishaps-Alyce-McKenzie-01-14-2013

[2] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/biteintheapple/cana-an-unexpected-time/ Nancy Rockwell

[3] http://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Wedding-Mishaps-Alyce-McKenzie-01-14-2013

[4] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/biteintheapple/cana-an-unexpected-time/ Nancy Rockwell

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